Facilities meetings cover short-term conflicts

Subsets of the Bullis Charter School and Los Altos School District boards met twice last week, tentatively forging a collaborative relationship to address outstanding facilities conflicts.

The boards broke their discussions into two parts: short-term and long-term issues. Last week’s meetings focused on Bullis Charter School officials’ short-term concerns regarding the district’s Facilities Use Agreement (FUA).

The district and the charter school haggled over terms of the FUA, which charter school officials ultimately signed at the eleventh hour to ensure access to their shared site at Blach Intermediate School ahead of the new school year. The FUA imposes grade-level restrictions on the charter school’s Blach campus and sets capacity limits for both Blach and the charter school’s Egan Junior High School site.

Charter school board members John Phelps and Joe Hurd represented Bullis Charter School at the meetings, and Los Altos School District Trustees Mark Goines and Steve Taglio represented the district. The Los Altos Community Foundation sponsored professional mediator Geoff Ball, and Los Altos Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw hosted the meetings, held Tuesday and Thursday in the Los Altos City Council Chambers.

Collaboration and compromise

A good deal of discussion centered on what it means to collaborate and compromise.

“We are looking for some support for the burden we have taken on,” Phelps said. “We have taken quite a burden by splitting up our program. We are looking for a little bit of cooperation.”

Taglio said he is concerned about how the charter school’s requests might affect the community at large.

“It’s the ripple effect,” he said. “I’m worried about the rest of the community. You’re 12 percent of school-aged children – that comes down to less than 5 percent of the community we service. It’s the families that live there, it’s those issues as well.”

Taglio said compromise must come from both sides.

“We are the only school in this town that is on two campuses four miles apart,” Hurd said in response. “It’s a little difficult for me to say I need to compromise more. I’m not saying this is the only compromise (the charter school) community can make, but that is a pretty big one.”

Phelps said he hopes the district will address the charter school’s concerns.

“We are now bumped up against some quite minor constraints,” he said. “I think we can solve these minor constraints without further compromising the Bullis Charter School program.”

Hammering out the details

Goines said the district board needs to understand the specifics of Bullis’ program on the Blach campus before trustees vote on the charter school’s proposed changes to the FUA.

Charter school officials presented additional data points for the district trustees to take back to their board. They said enrollment on the Blach campus would never exceed 175 students, and multigrade groupings would rotate on the campus. Officials emphasized that each charter school student would have only one drop-off and one pickup at the Blach campus per day.

Charter school representatives reported their grade-level caps at Blach: fewer than 90 K-3 students on campus at one time, fewer than 150 fourth- through sixth-graders and fewer than 100 seventh- and eighth-graders.

The K-6 students would begin their school day at 8:45 a.m. and end either at 2:30 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. Junior-highers would start at 8 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.

District trustees asked for clarification on how the charter school planned to use the shared space with so many grade levels on the Blach campus. The charter school outlined how it would need rainy-day access for all 175 students in either the gym or multipurpose room as well as access to the home economics room for fourth- through eighth-graders.

Regarding outdoor space, charter school officials asked for fourth- and fifth-grade access to the outdoor shared facilities. In an attempt to assuage the district’s concerns about their ability to provide a safe play space for K-3 students, charter school officials asked for space in front of the adjoined Stepping Stones Preschool to build a play structure for younger students – at the charter school’s expense. Bullis Charter School representatives also requested access to the sloped grass space on the street side of the track for the younger students’ play area.

Moving forward

Goines said the district would review the charter school’s proposed amendments to the FUA, particularly as they relate to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) mandates. The district, he added, must ensure that the charter school’s requested changes do not affect the latest addendum to the CEQA study on the Blach and Egan campuses.

Charter school board members urged the district trustees to reach a decision on their requests by their next board meeting, scheduled Monday. Goines called the timeline “optimistic,” suggesting instead that a decision by their Sept. 23 board meeting – after the upcoming long-term facilities discussions – would be more realistic.

Los Altos Hills City Councilman John Radford warned district trustees that if they don’t approve the charter school’s requests before the long-term meetings, then there won’t be much to discuss. The town of Los Altos Hills is scheduled to host the long-term facilities meetings this week.

“If we are in our chambers on Sept. 12 and there is no agreement, I can’t see long-term discussions going much of anywhere,” Radford said. “Mayor (Gary) Waldeck and I might not see the point of doing it. There is nothing tonight that should stop you from accommodating Bullis Charter School if you want a bond passed. We’ve got to get onto bigger stuff. This can be solved and should be solved.”

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